Zambales is one of those places that pretty much has it all – untainted forest landscape, the Sierra Madre mountain range, communities that practice living traditions and 107 miles of pure beach. Plus a whole bunch of cool islands and shoals for day trips and quiet camping trips.
The province has 13 towns and one city, Olongapo, that are all accessible via public air-conditioned buses from Cubao or Pasay in Metro Manila.
Despite its proximity to major cities, Zambales remains the bastion of the Aeta. They were the earliest Filipinos to migrate to the archipelago more than 10,000 years ago – thousands of years even before the Austronesian migration.Although the Aetas — also known as Ati, Ata, and Agta — are scattered throughout the Philippines, Zambales has the largest known population. There are several Aeta dialects in the province.
Some Aeta guides hold Jungle Survival classes within the Subic Freeport zone. Perfect if you’re a fan of “Man vs. Wild” scenarios. You could also be lucky enough to interact with the Aeta in their own mountain villages.
Of course, this is more likely to happen should you choose to go hiking.
If you want to go hiking, you have lots to choose from as about 60% of the area is covered in mountains. Some of the more popular ones are Mount Tapulao, Mount Cinco Picos and Mount Balingkilat.
Of course, since you’re in the Philippines, there must be a beach or a lake somewhere. Here, there are beaches with wreck drives, snorkeling options and even pine-tree lined beaches like the ones in San Antonio!
San Antonio is where you’ll find the coastal town of Pundaquit, the jump-off point to Anawangin Cove and Nagsasa Cove. The mountains, pine trees, and rivers here seem a landscape more apt for Colorado – except, it’s a beach! This unique scenery has made the coves a favorite spot of photographers. And because these are coves, the water is calm and the shore gently slopes. Feel free to pitch a tent and stay the night, just don’t go looking for a cellphone signal!
Right across Pundaquit is Camara Island and Capones Island. Though both islands are around 30 minutes away by boat, Capones gets more attention because it’s bigger and offers more activities. You can surf, sunbathe, have a picnic, explore the different sides of the island, or hike up to the Faro de Punta Capones lighthouse.
Zambales faces the West Philippine Sea, so surfers, expect to get stoked here, especially in San Narciso and San Felipe. These beachside towns don’t have a shortage of resorts, but The Circle Hostel in San Felipe is the hot new thing. It’s stripped down to the bare minimums (think three-level bunk beds, no air-conditioning), but hey, you can paint art on the wall, try slacklining (tightrope walking), or join the weekly yoga classes.
Farther north in Candelaria, you’ll find Potipot Island. And the name is perfect, because it’s a cute name for a cute island. In fact, the island is tiny enough for you to walk around it in less than an hour. The beige sand is fine and it’s perfect for sunbathing. Sun too harsh? Don’t worry, the large camachile tree provides ample shade.
Pine-tree-lined beaches, untainted forests, challenging waves, art and yoga by the beach — all within a few hours away from Manila. Zambales is not to be missed!